It's a high concept story. A reclusive computer genius invents a virtual reality system called OASIS that changes the world, and with his death, it's announced that his billions of dollars and control of the OASIS system will be awarded to the person who can solve an elaborate puzzle he constructed using the whole system. A young lad who dubs himself Parzival sets out to solve it and change his life. So begins the adventure.
The hook for me is that the genius named Halliday came of age in the 1980's and his OASIS game can only be solved by someone with an acute knowledge of 80's pop culture and trivia. So the whole world becomes obsessed with the 80's and kids like Parzival dedicate their lives to learning everything they can about the decade. This leads to Family Ties viewing marathons, Pac-Man perfect scores, and not-so-friendly arguments about the merits of the film Ladyhawke and it's attendant synthoid Alan Parsons Project soundtrack (which does nothing for its fantasy setting, by the way; it's a classic victim of the popularization of new wave synth music, which happened to Dune and Scarface among others).
The book's author, Ernest Cline, is clearly steeped in 80's knowledge himself. He previously made the film Fanboys, about a group of nerds who are desperate to break into George Lucas's Skywalker Ranch. I never saw it, but it seems full of geeky goodness.
|Marge Simpson says she struck a blow for women's rights.|
It must have been the pose, or the eye shadow, or blush.
|How many hours did I spend|
playing this dungeon? Well, it
finally paid off.
I'm not trying to brag--yes, I am--but I recognized the majority of the allusions throughout the book, from the Mr. Tuttle reference to the movie Brazil, to the Pan-Galactic Gargle Blaster drink from Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. And it isn't an 80's reference so much as a current geek-trend gag, but one of the greatest, funniest parts of the story is that the users of the OASIS system have voted Corey Doctorow and Wil Wheton as President and VP of the OASIS universe for ten years running.
Ready Player One is not totally sweet. In fact, there's a huge exposition dump in the first fifty pages. And the characterization is a bit simplistic. And the plot could have done with an added twist or two. But the writing is swift enough to keep you humming along, and connecting with the references not only creates the nostalgia, but makes the book one of the most fun I've read in a long time.